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Itar-Tass-Fotolur photo

By Emil Danielyan

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, on Sunday, welcoming what he described as a major headway in relations between the two allied countries in recent months.

The meeting took place in the Moldovan capital Chisinau on the sidelines of a summit of the ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.

"The quality of relations between Russia and Armenia has changed," the official Itar-Tass news agency quoted Putin as saying. Putin pointed to the anticipated signing of an equities-for-debt agreement between the two governments. But he reportedly cautioned that "much remains to be done" in solving problems hampering development of bilateral ties.

Kocharian, for his part, was quoted as saying that the swap deal settling Armenia's $98 million state debt to Russia will be signed "in the near future." "I hope that a visit to Armenia by the Russian prime minister will take place, and we shall draw a line under this difficult case," he said.

Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who has represented the Armenian government in debt talks with the Russians, said on Saturday that the deal will likely be signed by November 10. Sarkisian was speaking to government-controlled media on his return from a working visit to Russia. He said it may have been his "most useful" trip abroad.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking after talks with Sarkisian last week, reaffirmed Russia's strong commitment to close military ties with Armenia. Ivanov said Moscow may soon reinforce a recently formed joint Russian-Armenian military unit based in northwestern Armenia.

The two defense chiefs signed two more agreements on bilateral military cooperation.

On Monday, Putin welcomed the opening in Moscow of an international conference of Armenians from around the world, according to Itar-Tass. The conference, attended by more than 300 people from 43 countries, was organized by the Union of Armenians of Russia. In a written message read out by his chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, Putin said that "Armenians have been making a considerable contribution to the development of our state over many centuries, and now many achievements in science, culture and business are associated with the names of many Armenians."

"I'm sure that fruitful work of the forum will help to deepen scientific and economic relations between Russia and Armenia," the message reads.
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